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Image – Reese Inman, DIVERGENCE II (2008), acrylic on panel 30 x 30 in Remix (Boston, 2008), a solo exhibition of handmade computer art works by Reese Inman, Gallery NAGA in Boston.
Apophenia is the experience of seeing meaningful patterns or connections in random or meaningless data. The term was coined in 1958 by Klaus Conrad, who defined it as the “unmotivated seeing of connections” accompanied by a “specific experience of an abnormal meaningfulness”, but it has come to represent the human tendency to seek patterns in random information in general (such as with gambling). In statistics, apophenia is known as a Type I error – the identification of false patterns in data. It may be compared with a so called false positive in other test situations. Two correlated terms are synchronicity and pareidolia (from Wikipedia):
Synchronicity: Carl Jung coined the term synchronicity for the “simultaneous occurrence of two meaningful but not causally connected events” creating a significant realm of philosophical exploration. This attempt at finding patterns within a world where coincidence does not exist possibly involves apophenia if a person’s perspective attributes their own causation to a series of events. “Synchronicity therefore means the simultaneous occurrence of a certain psychic state with one or more external events which appear as meaningful parallels to a momentary subjective state”. (C. Jung, 1960).
Pareidolia: Pareidolia is a type of apophenia involving the perception of images or sounds in random stimuli, for example, hearing a ringing phone while taking a shower. The noise produced by the running water gives a random background from which the patterned sound of a ringing phone might be “produced”. A more common human experience is perceiving faces in inanimate objects; this phenomenon is not surprising in light of how much processing the brain does in order to memorize and recall the faces of hundreds or thousands of different individuals. In one respect, the brain is a facial recognition, storage, and recall machine – and it is very good at it. A by-product of this acumen at recognizing faces is that people see faces even where there is no face: the headlights & grill of an auto-mobile can appear to be “grinning”, individuals around the world can see the “Man in the Moon”, and a drawing consisting of only three circles and a line which even children will identify as a face are everyday examples of this..
Video – 16×9 Frame blended animation Tagtool drawing session. Drawing by Frances Sander, post production by Dmitri Berzon. Music by Samka.
…Or should I say, Gestaltic?
The Tagtool is a performative visual instrument used on stage and on the street. It serves as a VJ tool, a creative video game, or an intuitive way of creating animation. The system is operated collaboratively by an artist drawing the pictures and an animator adding movement to the artwork with a gamepad. The design achieves virtually unlimited artistic complexity with a simple set of controls, which can be mastered even by children. The project is coordinated by OMA International. Being inspired by the open source movement, relevant to the group also to all digital arts, their aim is that all knowledge acquired within the Tagtool project should be shared. (check out for more on their project website, http://www.tagtool.org ). All in all, a short documentary made by 4 Graz students. Everything, that ends by adding up non-linearly tends to be… well, you know…
Video – Dance performance by Elisabeth, Tagtool drawing and animation by Die.Puntigam, music by Jan, Seppy and Dima.
Figure – A swarm cognitive map (pheromone spatial distribution map) in 3D, at a specific time t. The artificial ant colony was evolved within 2 digital grey images based on the following work. The real physical “thing” can be seen here.
 Vitorino Ramos, The MC2 Project [Machines of Collective Conscience]: A possible walk, up to Life-like Complexity and Behaviour, from bottom, basic and simple bio-inspired heuristics – a walk, up into the morphogenesis of information, UTOPIA Biennial Art Exposition, Cascais, Portugal, July 12-22, 2001.
Synergy (from the Greek word synergos), broadly defined, refers to combined or co-operative effects produced by two or more elements (parts or individuals). The definition is often associated with the holistic conviction quote that “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts” (Aristotle, in Metaphysics), or the whole cannot exceed the sum of the energies invested in each of its parts (e.g. first law of thermodynamics) even if it is more accurate to say that the functional effects produced by wholes are different from what the parts can produce alone. Synergy is a ubiquitous phenomena in nature and human societies alike. One well know example is provided by the emergence of self-organization in social insects, via direct (mandibular, antennation, chemical or visual contact, etc) or indirect interactions. The latter types are more subtle and defined as stigmergy to explain task coordination and regulation in the context of nest reconstruction in Macrotermes termites. An example, could be provided by two individuals, who interact indirectly when one of them modifies the environment and the other responds to the new environment at a later time. In other words, stigmergy could be defined as a particular case of environmental or spatial synergy. Synergy can be viewed as the “quantity” with respect to which the whole differs from the mere aggregate. Typically these systems form a structure, configuration, or pattern of physical, biological, sociological, or psychological phenomena, so integrated as to constitute a functional unit with properties not derivable from its parts in summation (i.e. non-linear) – Gestalt in one word (the English word more similar is perhaps system, configuration or whole). The system is purely holistic, and their properties are intrinsically emergent and auto-catalytic.
A typical example could be found in some social insect societies, namely in ant colonies. Coordination and regulation of building activities on these societies do not depend on the workers themselves but are mainly achieved by the nest structure: a stimulating configuration triggers the response of a termite worker, transforming the configuration into another configuration that may trigger in turn another (possibly different) action performed by the same termite or any other worker in the colony. Recruitment of social insects for particular tasks is another case of stigmergy. Self-organized trail laying by individual ants is a way of modifying the environment to communicate with nest mates that follow such trails. It appears that task performance by some workers decreases the need for more task performance: for instance, nest cleaning by some workers reduces the need for nest cleaning. Therefore, nest mates communicate to other nest mates by modifying the environment (cleaning the nest), and nest mates respond to the modified environment (by not engaging in nest cleaning).
Swarms of social insects construct trails and networks of regular traffic via a process of pheromone (a chemical substance) laying and following. These patterns constitute what is known in brain science as a cognitive map. The main differences lies in the fact that insects write their spatial memories in the environment, while the mammalian cognitive map lies inside the brain, further justified by many researchers via a direct comparison with the neural processes associated with the construction of cognitive maps in the hippocampus.
But by far more crucial to the present project, is how ants form piles of items such as dead bodies (corpses), larvae, or grains of sand. There again, stigmergy is at work: ants deposit items at initially random locations. When other ants perceive deposited items, they are stimulated to deposit items next to them, being this type of cemetery clustering organization and brood sorting a type of self-organization and adaptive behaviour, being the final pattern of object sptial distribution a reflection of what the colony feels and thinks about that objects, as if they were another organism (a meta- global organism).
As forecasted by Wilson [E.O. Wilson. The Insect Societies, Belknam Press, Cambridge, 1971], our understanding of individual insect behaviour together with the sophistication with which we will able to analyse their collective interaction would advance to the point were we would one day posses a detailed, even quantitative, understanding of how individual “probability matrices” (their tendencies, feelings and inner thoughts) would lead to mass action at the level of the colony (society), that is a truly “stochastic theory of mass behaviour” where the reconstruction of mass behaviours is possible from the behaviours of single colony members, and mainly from the analysis of relationships found at the basic level of interactions.
The idea behind the MC2 Machine is simple to transpose for the first time, the mammalian cognitive map, to a environmental (spatial) one, allowing the recognition of what happens when a group of individuals (humans) try to organize different abstract concepts (words) in one habitat (via internet). Even if each of them is working alone in a particular sub-space of that “concept” habitat, simply rearranging notions at their own will, mapping “Sameness” into “Neighborness“, not recognizing the whole process occurring simultaneously on their society, a global collective-conscience emerges. Clusters of abstract notions emerge, exposing groups of similarity among the different concepts. The MC2 machine is then like a mirror of what happens inside the brain of multiple individuals trying to impose their own conscience onto the group.
Through a Internet site reflecting the “words habitat”, the users (humans) choose, gather and reorganize some types of words and concepts. The overall movements of these word-objects are then mapped into a public space. Along this process, two shifts emerge: the virtual becomes the reality, and the personal subjective and disperse beliefs become onto a social and politically significant element. That is, perception and action only by themselves can evolve adaptive and flexible problem-solving mechanisms, or emerge communication among many parts. The whole and their behaviours (i.e., the next layer in complexity – our social significant element) emerges from the relationship of many parts, even if these later are acting strictly within and according to any sub-level of basic and simple strategies, ad-infinitum repeated.
The MC2 machine will reveal then what happens in many real world situations; cooperation among individuals, altruism, egoism, radicalism, and also the resistance to that radicalism, memory of that society on some extreme positions on time, but the inevitable disappearance of that positions, to give rise to the convergence to the group majority thought (Common-sense?), eliminating good or bad relations found so far, among in our case, words and abstract notions. Even though the machine composed of many human-parts will “work” within this restrict context, she will reveal how some relationships among notions in our society (ideas) are only possible to be found, when and only when simple ones are found first (the minimum layer of complexity), neglecting possible big steps of a minority group of visionary individuals. Is there (in our society) any need for a critical mass of knowledge, in order to achieve other layers of complexity? Roughly, she will reveal for instance how democracies can evolve and die on time, as many things in our impermanent world.
The Austrian composer Peter Ablinger transferred the frequency spectrum of one child’s voice to his computer controlled mechanical piano – A “speaking piano” reciting the Proclamation of the European Environmental Criminal Court at World Venice Forum 2009. It’s all in German, but what the piano says is all English, and it’s really neat to watch. All of a sudden the words of the Declaration become understandable to a European Environmental Criminal Court. Wien Modern was one out of ten cultural institutions asked for an artistic contribution to the event in Palazzo Ducale in Venice. The ambitious goal was to make this message audible with musical means, without falling back to a simple setting. [link]
[…] We hear sounds that obviously aren’t normal Music, but neither they are language, and one could say that sometimes, a bridging happens. Personally, I think you can understand individual words even without knowing the text, and the Eureka moment happens when you see the text, and suddenly, the language is there. […]
Fig. – Illusion created by Prof. Akiyoshi Kitaoka (Dep. of Psychology, Ritsumeikan Univ., Kyoto, Japan). If you don’t see any illusion at all, don’t worry. That’s exactly why this optical illusion is so great. The illusion is not there, or is it?! Meanwhile over his page, Akiyoshi warns: This page contains some works of “anomalous motion illusion”, which might make sensitive observers dizzy or sick. Should you feel dizzy, you had better leave this page immediately (more).
Where’s the illusion, right? Well,… what if I just tell you that no blue at all is used over this picture! No matter how strongly you want to believe you are seeing blue and green spirals here, there is no blue color in this image. There is only green, red and orange. What you think is blue is actually green. Don’t worry, … you are not daltonic. I mean, I’m a little bit but, you could check this out through Paint Shop Pro or Photoshop, if you need an affirmation. Indeed, these are just “Vain speculation undeceived by the senses” (1670’s Scilla’s treatise) .
In fact, Relations here, between different colors (green, red and orange), are more important than each color by itself. Relations plus context are the key (more here over Generative Art, and here over Swarm Intelligence based Pattern Recognition). Through these relations, much probably using Gestalt‘s principles (the German word Gestalt could be translated into “configuration or pattern”), here Akiyoshi manages to emerge us the blue color over our perception. This does not cheat a computer of course, however could cheat our own eyes. In other areas the opposite could also be found. For instance, Humans can easily recognize a car over background trees (segment it, in just tiny lapses of a second), while this natural task could be extremely painful for computers over some cases (here is one example).
Born in Prague (inspired by 1890’s works of Christian von Ehrenfels, Austrian philosopher), then later absorbed by a great and tremendous intellectual period occurred from Germany back to Austria (Bauhaus), the Gestalt Laws of Organization have guided the study of how people perceive visual components as organized patterns or wholes, instead of many different parts. I would say that most certainly some Wertheimer’s gestaltic principles were used in here: Figure and Ground, Similarity, Proximity or Contiguity, Continuity, Closure, Area, and Symmetry (check Gestalt Theory of Visual Perception). We could see this happening also in other areas, … in Music for instance:
[…] Gestalt theory first arose in 1890 as a reaction to the prevalent psychological theory of the time – atomism. Atomism examined parts of things with the idea that these parts could then be put back together to make wholes. Atomists believed the nature of things to be absolute and not dependent on context. Gestalt theorists, on the other hand, were intrigued by the way our mind perceives wholes out of incomplete elements [1, 2]. “To the Gestaltists, things are affected by where they are and by what surrounds them…so that things are better described as “more than the sum of their parts.” [1, p. 49]. Gestaltists believed that context was very important in perception. An essay by Christian von Ehrenfels discussed this belief using a musical example. Take a 12 note melody. Play it in one key, say the key of C. Now change to another key, say the key of A flat. There might not be any notes the same in the two songs, yet a person listening to it knows that it is the same tune. It is the relationships between the notes that give us the tune, the whole, not which notes make up the tune. […], from “Gestalt Principles of Perception“, Bonnie Skaalid, Univ. of Saskatchewan, Canada, 1999.
Care for an contemporary example? Well, … the first thing that comes to my mind is DUB music genre. In fact, I do have several albums from different musicians over my house. Dub music evolved in Jamaica (1968) from early rastafarian instrumental reggae music and versions that incorporated fairly primitive reverbs and echo sound effects, being found by accident (engineer Byron Smith left the vocal track out by accident). Over decades, it inspired immense groups of musicians from well-known bands such as The Police, The Clash, UB40 up to reputed musicians such as Bill Laswell. Of course !, it was not far from what John Cage have made for the solo piano Music of Changes, to determine which notes should be used and when they should sound. In the fifty’s, Cage start it to use the mechanism of the I Ching (Chinese “Book of Changes”) in the composition of his music in order to provide a framework for his uses of chance.
Other most recent bands include, Leftfield, Massive Attack, Bauhaus, The Beastie Boys, Asian Dub Foundation, Underworld, Thievery Corporation, Gorillaz, Kruder & Dorfmeister, and DJ Spooky. But what is then so special about Dub? Well, one of this genre’s most striking features is the fact that some if not all musical sentences are incomplete. Those special sentences (Gestaltic, let me add), are normally followed by a pause. The most amazing thing however, is that us, Humans could perceive the entire sentence being formed on the back of our minds! So the music is not there, and at the same time, we are listening to two adjacent simultaneous melodies, as we were a composer. By just using relations among a few notes, we soon start to emerge a perception for the whole sentence, as if they were self-organizing! Being it extremely rhythmic, this often could lead us to a sweet soft state of overwhelming emotion, or exalted organic feel to the music .
As you will probably know by now, the same could happen over misplaced letters over an entire phrase. Even if some letters are not at their right proper place, at each word, we could still perceive the whole sentence meaning. Up to your gestaltic neurons to decipher.
Next time you go to a rave party (I never did, neither pretend to), do think about the title of this post, the figure above, as well as on all those great past musicians, along with – unfortunately – awkward current DJ’s, who pass on for hours strident music mixes without knowing at all what Gestalt is all about! Oh, … by the way, should you feel extremely dizzy, do follow Akiyoshi’s advice: If you start feeling unwell when using this website (rave party), immediately cover one eye with your hand and then leave the page (leave the party). Do not close your both eyes because that can make the attack worse!